25.9.11

Sweaters anyone?

It's been some time that I contributed to our blog but just a few minutes I saw an amazing project which involves our old sweaters.


 

Hope you will have fun with your old sweaters in the future.
Elizabeth

second harvest honey


our second harvest honey is in the jars. we only got 15 kilos the second time around, which is less than the first harvest. that's not how it's supposed to work - usually, you get twice as much honey in the second harvest as in your first. we got 22 kilos the first time, so we were hoping for 40+. however, having one lazy queen (who we have now replaced) and it being a very rainy, cool summer, 15 kilos it was. apparently with the bad weather, the bees spent all of their time indoors, eating the fruits of their labors.


the second harvest honey is quite different. i suppose it has to do with different flowers being in bloom, tho' honestly, i'm still learning this and i don't really know why it's so different. the honey is much darker, thicker and richer and just tastes deeper and more complex somehow. we made a jar with pecans and one with walnuts, to have with some nice cheese this winter sometime.

we've learned so much this year and it's very satisfying to use our own honey in our morning tea and to take a jar as a hostess gift when we go for a visit. we've decided to have five bee families next year, now that we've learned the ropes, so we should have even more honey next year. maybe even enough to be able to sell some.

19.9.11

Petri dish meat, vegetarianism and conscious consumption

There was an interesting article in the New Scientist recently about petri dish meat, vegetarianism and conscious consumption. Yes, petri dish meat. Or invitro meat, or lab meat, or synthetic meat, or cultured meat - all terms for meat grown in a lab. The idea is that through tissue engineering, scientists can produce meat at a grand scale that would meet the meat demands of the world in a more environmentally and humane way. Starting with muscle stem cells, scientists are able to grow muscle cells and then muscle tissue of various animals. One lab even exercises the tissue by stretching it so that it is more like muscle from a living animal. In addition, they can grow meat from a variety of different animals, not just cows and pigs, since all they need are muscle stem cells to begin with and these can be taken without killing the animal. 
It is more environmentally friendly and when compared to 'conventional meat', as it uses less energy, lower CO2 emissions, lower water use and perhaps obviously much lower land. Indeed, it is estimated that cultured beef uses 99% less land than beef farming. It also has the potential to be more humane. So much so that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is running a contest offering $1 million dollars to "the first scientist to produce and bring to market in vitro meat." Their logic is simply that synthetic meat would relive those animals currently kept and slaughtered for food. 
So, what do you think? I will admit I am totally, well, grossed out by the idea of lab meat. The image of these tissue strips getting exercised by stretching just to mimic muscle tissue has been with me for days. I am not a vegetarian but my husband is and I am essentially a vegetarian cook. But every once and a while, I like to eat meat. Like last night, my son and I had spaghetti and meatballs, which I made from Danish organic ground beef, of course. I can manage ground beef because there aren't bones, nerves, skin and all those things that remind me that it comes from an animal. So if I am squeamish about the actual meat when it reminds me that it does come from an animal, then I should be happy about lab meat, right? Why can't I celebrate this new way of producing meat? I mean are hot dogs or chicken nuggets much different? They are made with industrially recovered meat and full of chemicals to preserve, colour, and  flavour. (Although, I don't actually eat these either). 
As a practitioner of conscious consumption, this in-vitro meat has me re-examining and thinking deeply about what I eat. I'd like to know your thoughts. 

13.9.11

Adventures in Wine Making


 About ten days ago we began a crash course in wine making.  When we planted our berry patch last year, we included elderberries with the intent of doing elderberry wine.  Suddenly, we realized that the elderberries were ready and if we didn’t act fast, the birds would wreak havoc.  We ran down to our local old time feed shop/brew supply and got a quick crash course on starting the fermentation process. 
 We plowed through the information, bought the different components that we needed and began our primary fermentation.  Last night, we went to strain the fruit, and transfer the already wine like liquid to its secondary fermenting container.  Since we began with only a small amount, approximately 1 gallon, we decided to pour through a funnel, rather than siphon the wine-in-process, once we had strained out the poached fruits.  Everything was going swimmingly, until the darned bowl just would not cooperate, and about half of our first batch ended up down the drain.  So now instead of 5 bottles worth of fermenting juice, we have only two and a half.  Ah well, yet another lesson learned…siphon even small amounts to avoid catastrophe frustration. 
 Never fear, we have been collecting loads of the still ripening fruit and will be putting down our second and much larger batch this weekend.  On the bright side, B tasted the batch and was pleasantly surprised by the flavor and complexity already developing! 

What have we learned so far??  When dealing with fruits like rhubarb and berries freeze them first, then as they thaw they are already squishier and the juice flows out more freely.  Be sure to kill off the natural pectin’s that are there (they may or may not be of benefit in the finished product and you don’t want to risk the outcome of all your hard work in the end) and then add back a wine grade pectin.  Make sure everything is spotlessly clean using a special detergent.  There are many kinds of yeast, each one works best at a different temperature and will help to provide different alcohol contents, so educate yourself.   Finally, do not let small setbacks frustrate you; it is all a grand, and hopefully tasty, chemistry experiment.  What is next on taps?  More wine adventures, and mead...oh I wish I had some of Julie's honey!

5.9.11

pressing cider


this weekend, we sent the child up the old apple tree in our back yard to get those hard-to-reach apples. it's a very old tree and so the apples weren't as plentiful as we would have liked, but there were enough for a first run of our cider press.


eventually husband went up the tree too and they managed to shake down all of the apples. in all, there were 50-60 some. they are a bit on the small side, but delicious, crisp and juicy.


we'll prune back the tree significantly this autumn and hope it encourages better apple growth next year. it's quite a charming little old tree, so we're definitely not cutting it down all together, as it gives atmosphere to the back yard.


the next step was to send them through the chopper. we learned that the chopper has an awful lot of vibration, so it's a good thing husband sunk those legs of the bench 50cm or more into the ground.


we also realized that the little grinder's engine isn't going to be up to the task of many more apples than we processed. each apple we fed in slowed it down significantly and we had to pause in between to let it get up to speed. it also threw apple chunks around quite a bit (hence the towel over the top of it).


this is a shot of the clean plastic ikea container where most of the chopped apples end up, below the chopper. that worked pretty well.


the 50-odd apples resulted in this much chopped. we didn't weigh it, but i suppose it was about 5 kilos.


we readied the press. the oak grate in the bottom took quite some rinsing before it stopped giving off an oak-color to the water. we wanted our cider to get its color from the apples, not from the oak! after many rinses, also with boiling water from the kettle, the water ran pretty clear from the oak.


the next step was to make the "cheese." we put in the frame and then laid in a polyester netting cloth (we're going to experiment with different kinds of cloth, but tried this to start with, as it's what many of the sources we've read recommend). the cloth was 150cm wide by about 150cm in length.


next, we filled it with our chopped apples. the entire bucket of chopped apples fit in one cheese, tho' the press can take more than one at at time.


next step is to fold the cloth over the chopped apples. we folded each side over and then the ends, to carefully enclose all of the apples.


it's a great activity for kids. sabin was so happy to help with it. she actually did a lot of the work.


once it was folded carefully, husband lifted out the frame (you can see the little nail "handle" there underneath his right hand. the cheese stood well on its own.


next, we placed an oak grate on top of the cheese and then, since we only had one, three large pieces of 4x4 and then the jack. husband has made a little frame for the jack to stand in, so it doesn't shift out of place during use.


then we began pressing (or rather, we used child labor to do the the pressing), the cider running out into a large bowl underneath the sink's drain. we pressed until sabin couldn't pull the jack handle down again, even by hanging her whole weight on it.


our 5 kilos of apples resulted in approximately one whole liter of cider (these are 750ml bottles). it's sweet and delicious and we're hoarding it a bit until we get our hands on some of the apples promised by a few neighbors.


we fed the apple remains to the chickens, but with the next batch, i'm going to make cider vinegar. apparently it's pretty easy - you just take these apple remains, put them in a big crock with some water and let them ferment for a month or so, until the vinegar is the strength you want. sounds pretty easy to me.  i just washed up the cloth and it's ready for the next go.

we learned several things:

~ it takes a LOT of apples to make not very much cider.
~ the engine of our chopper isn't powerful enough.
~ the oak is a bit difficult, since it wants to contribute its color to the batch (how do they keep chardonnay golden in oak barrels?)
~ i thought husband's cider press was a bit over-dimensioned, but it needs that strength to withstand the pressure from the jack and stay together. it did this with flying colors.
~ the repurposed sink makes a great receptacle for the juice.

we've managed to pick up 4 beautiful old-fashioned glass wine balloons here and there over the past week or so and we're ready to fill them and make hard cider, as soon as we get some more apples.

if you have any questions about any of this, just ask in the comments!

~ julochka